“Your fathersperson raises cattle animals then?”
Roger laughed. “No, dad is a human resources and efficiency researcher.”
“What is that meaning?”
“That means that he takes a bunch of numbers and drawings on paper and uses them to make machines work better and faster, with less waste. And he studies business and helps them see where they could be maximizing their employees contributions better.”
“That sounding interesting,” said Harnswiggle, vaguely impressed. “Does he like being this?”
“Yes, he likes it a lot,” said Mavis.
“What does your mothersperson do?”
“She is a publicist--she tells people when cool things are going on. Or, she tells people that they should think things are cool. Anyway, she works mostly for dad, making sure his theories and discoveries get the attention they deserve.”
“Is she liking being this?”
There was a pause, a sort of thinking stillness. And then at last Mavis said “I think...I think that she liked it more a couple of years ago, when she worked for other people, too. I think that she doesn’t like that people see her as Dad’s employee.”
“Hmm,” said Harnswiggle. “And what do you do? You go to humansperson school?”
“We’re homeschooled,” said Roger quickly. “Or...self schooled.”
Harnswiggle seemed to know from the sound of Roger’s voice that there was something more, something deeper. But she didn’t say anything about it, because she didn’t know what to say. And though Harnswiggle had many faults, she was a genuinely caring little sprite, and she had learned a lesson that many who would claim to being wise have yet to learn: if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything at all.
Bollygoggle also happened to choose that exact moment to bring them to a halt. “This is the end of the forest,” he said. “After this is all being scrub land. Stay close.”
They rode their ponies two abreast out into the open, and tried to watch for gopher tortoise holes, and for ant piles, and for sodee apple plants. At least, Roger and Mavis did, and it took them a little ways to realize that while there were tortoise holes, because the gopher tortoise was supposed to be there, there were no ant hills and no sodee apples. This was Otherworld, after all.
“Getting close,” said Bollygoggle.
They came out through a little stand of palmettos and pine trees and found themselves at the edge of a very large field, perfectly leveled and covered in thick green grass. At the other end of the field, there was a tent and a row of horses grazing leisurely.
Bollygoggle seemed to have lost his desire to lead, and so Harnswiggle pushed ahead, riding straight out into the middle of the field with no apparent fear.
A soldier came striding out to meet them. Even with his black armor clanking dully like a tin can, he was an impressive sight, and he didn’t seem too happy to see them. “Harnswiggle, did you forget the warning that good King Dehn, may his reign never falter, gave you when last you met?”
Harnswiggle turned pink. “I didn’t forget. But I was hoping...see...I was hoping that he would forget.”
“Wait, you messed with this guy, too?” asked Roger. “What did you do to him?”
“It’s a long story. No time for telling it now.”
“You should ride away, Harnswiggle the unwelcome, before the treasured King Dehn, may his strength never decrease, learns of your presence here on these great and noble fields of sport.”
“It is too late, oh fellow knight,” said another knight that had come up behind the first. “The benevolent King Dehn, may he never be weary, has seen this long dreaded sprite, and bids you bring her and her companions to his tent.”
The first knight sighed. “Very well. His Majesty’s whim is the command of thousands and cannot be broken. Come, Harnswiggle the miscreant, and these, your fellow perpetrators of vile misdeeds, or the profound King Dehn, may his--”
“Ok, we’re coming,” said Roger. “There’s no need to write a book about it.”
Bollygoggle gave the tiniest of snorts.
Up close, the tent looked exactly like Mavis thought it would, with its solid wood posts and its elaborately embroidered coverings. It looked like an illustration right out of one of her favorite fairy tales, complete with the greying king sitting with his feet up in the doorway, his robe lined with fur and his crown gleaming. But this king was not smiling, and he looked more like the fairytale king who would send the hero on ridiculous quests than the jolly sort of king who would welcome them to a legendary feast.
Mavis was right. Dehn was a spoiled prince who became an even more spoiled king, who had never had to do anything more important than read tax law proclamations and eat large meals at fancy banquets. It also happened that on this particular day he was sitting in his chair on his very wealthy bottom, reading The Book of Things that Are, and being incredibly bored. It turned out that things that are were not much fun to read at all--not when compared to things that might have been, or could be, or were improbable.
He did not look happy to see Harnswiggle. Not at all.